The more curious you are about the songs you hear, the more likely it is that you’ll improve your own songwriting technique. If you’re the kind of person who always wonders, “What was that chord?”, “How did they do that?”, or “What’s going on at that spot in the song?”, you’re also likely to be the kind who easily adapts and improves as a songwriter.
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Any songwriter will tell you that listening to great songs is an important part of becoming a better writer. But sometimes it’s hard to be objective. There are lots of good songs to use as a model for your own music, but you’re missing out if you only listen to the songs you like.
Here’s a kind of “thought experiment” you can try, in a bid to become a more objective listener. Check out online lists of good songs (type “best song lists” into an online search engine and you’ll find lots of them), and look through the list.
You’re bound to find songs you like, but you’ll also notice the songs that, even though they are popular with most people, happen to be songs that you don’t care for. Choose one of those less desirable songs, and give it a listen.
Once you’ve listened to it a few times, pretend that it’s a song that you really like, and then imagine telling someone else about how much you love it. Find anything and everything about the song that you think is great, and put into words why you think the song works. Be convincing!
In doing this exercise, you will find that even though the song isn’t your cup of tea there are usually plenty of good reasons why it’s become so popular with others.
Being able to see and hear the good in a song that you happen to dislike is an important activity for songwriters. It develops that all-important songwriting quality known as objective listening, and it allows you to learn from all good songs, not just the ones you happen to like.
Once you’ve mastered the art of objective listening, you’re on a good path to becoming a better songwriter.
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